News / Calgary

Autonomous plows still a while away: City of Calgary transportation

Part of the City of Calgary's snow clearing costs include staff who may not always have a storm to contend with

One day your Calgary street could be cleared by robots, but the city says it's a little soon for that.

Metro File Photo

One day your Calgary street could be cleared by robots, but the city says it's a little soon for that.

It’s the snow clearing wave of the future, and after a tough snowfall seems far for some to grasp.

The city could invest in more plowing machines, but it’s also manning all of their fleet that makes the budget for snow clearing climb.

“The cost is huge,” said Transportation boss Mac Logan. “If it’s not snowing and the plow is sitting in the yard, we’re still paying for it, we bought the equipment and staff are still coming in for their shift.”

So, what if the city just needed the machines? Autonomously clearing priority 1 and 2 routes in a driverless fashion.

Logan said the City of Calgary isn’t quite there yet. 

“It’s been talked about,” Logan said. “There could be a point in the future where things like a Roomba clear snow, but we’re not quite there yet – but I wouldn’t say it’s beyond the realm of possibility in the future.”

Although there are small yard-work robots on the market for house use like the Kobi, and other DIY creations made specifically for snow clearing, it’s tough to say how far away the City of Calgary is to getting their own industrial-grade machine. 

Autonomous snow plows aren’t new technology. This year marked the seventh annual iteration of a Minnesota Autonomous Snowplow Competition hosted by the Institute of Navigation (ION) Satellite Division. The competition allows students from across the US, and sometimes from Canada, to put their own robots through rigorous plowing exercises for an ultimate prize.

Currently, the city’s cost per person is “modest” according to Logan, when compared to a comparable private service.